BROSSARD, Que. – The feeling of impending doom that seems to have descended on the Montreal Canadiens fans had not reached the dressing room of their suburban training centre on Sunday afternoon.
Centre David Desharnais even saw the notion of competing in a must-win Game 6 of their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal against the Boston Bruins as fun.
The Canadiens trail the Bruins 3-2 ahead of the Monday night game at the Bell Centre.
Desharnais recalled that his team was in the same predicament against Boston in the first round in 2011 and ended up winning 2-1 before falling in overtime in Game 7.
“It’s not the first time for all of us,” said Desharnais. “It’s fun. You play all year to be in this kind of situation, playing a big game at home. We need to take advantage of it.”
A 4-2 defeat in Boston on Saturday night, in which conceding the Bruins’ first two power-play goals of the series had them down 3-0 in the second period, has put the Canadiens on the brink of elimination.
A concern is that they haven’t scored a goal at even strength in the last two games, including a 1-0 overtime loss in Game 4, which was the first time in four tries they failed to win on home ice in this year’s playoffs.
But coach Michel Therrien said that was no reason to panic.
“We’re playing the Boston Bruins,” he said. “They were the best team in the NHL in the regular season, so you have to give them credit.
“We have to find a solution to be better five-on-five and we will. That’s the challenge to play against a team like that. But we’ve faced adversity through the course of the season and what I like about this group is we’ve always got that attitude when we face adversity. It won’t be any different.”
Captain Brian Gionta added: “We’re playing at home. For the most part of the series we’ve outplayed them and we feel comfortable.”
Going into the game in Boston, Therrien had called on his top offensive players to adjust better to the added intensity of playoff hockey.
Max Pacioretty, a 39-goal scorer in the regular season who has one in nine playoff games, responded with lots of energy. He tied with P.K Subban for the team lead with six shots on goal and assisted on Subban’s power-play goal late in the third period.
Desharnais added three shots, but still has only one assist in the series.
And Thomas Vanek, who has been quiet since potting two power-play goals in Game 2, was also held off the scoresheet.
“We need everyone and I’m part of that group, so obviously we’ve got to raise our game,” said Vanek. “Starting from myself.”
The Austrian right-winger was acquired at the trade deadline to add punch to the attack and mostly he has done that.
The Canadiens didn’t need their top guns much as they swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, but their production has been missed against a tight defensive club like the Bruins, which seems to have six-foot-nine defenceman Zdeno Chara on the ice for every important shift.
“It’s been a little bit different series than Tampa,” said Vanek. “That’s a big team over there and I thought overall it’s a team that’s been playing well.
“We knew from the get-go that they have depth and I think that’s what makes them strong. But so do we. I don’t think this series is about one or two players. It’s about depth. We still believe in this group and we’ll be ready to go.”
Boston’s depth came through on Saturday as the third line of centre Carl Soderberg with Loui Eriksson and Matt Fraser produced a pair of goals. Fraser had scored the only goal in Game 4 as well.
Therrien gave no hint whether he will stick with slow-moving defenceman Douglas Murray, against whom Bruins coach Claude Julien likes to put the Soderberg line. Murray replaced the much-smaller but more mobile Francis Bouillon after the first two games.
He also wouldn’t discuss his decision to replace veteran Daniel Briere with Brandon Prust, a more robust forward who looks to be playing through some sort of upper-body injury.
“I don’t want to talk about (Saturday) night,” he said. “What’s important to us is we brought all the guys here today and everybody was upbeat.”
The Canadiens held an optional practice that included five players who played in Game 5: Prust, Murray, Travis Moen, Mike Weaver and Michael Bournival.
“I don’t think we have to change much,” said Gionta. “We have to make some minor tweaks, but it’s a matter of playing our game.
“I thought in the second period we lost some momentum. It went from a 1-0 to a 3-0 game and from that point, you’re chasing the game. So it’s not huge adjustments by any means.”
The game was marred by an incident late in the third period just after Subban scored Montreal’s second goal. Subban was skating past the Boston bench during the play when he had water squirted into his face from the bench by Bruins forward Shawn Thornton.
No penalty was called but the NHL fined Thornton US$2,820.52 for unsportsmanlike conduct Sunday.
Gionta feels that was ample punishment.
“I still haven’t seen what happened,” he said. “But from what I’ve read or whatever I’ve heard, it seems fair enough.
“I’ve seen worse. I guess what they’re trying to do is get guys off their game.”